On this day in 2016, I posted about a former slave plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana I visited that weekend. I shared my experience on this blog, but I never made it a Black History Fun Fact. As the memory popped up in my Facebook archives, I decided to add it to the collection. Below is the original post for those of you who were not following me in 2016 and never saw this.
Originally Published on 11/28/2016
I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is an entirely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional, but I will say for now that gratitude is my best way of describing it—appreciation for all the comforts I enjoy in my life that my ancestors paid for with their blood. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what they would be doing at this time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines or, perhaps, still working.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.
The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
The Overseer’s House
Overseers were the middlemen of the Antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave owner, and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over their brothers. The “masters” expected overseers to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce a crop. The enslaved were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to occupy his own cabin or possibly get a bit more food. The perception was that because his job was “better,” he himself was better off, but he was still an enslaved person.
Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!
I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.
Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked twelve hours a day, six days a week.
Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in this wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire, earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress. All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer.
Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.
The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also ran the Post Office located inside.
Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.
Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, the plantation reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.
Cane Syrup Pot
Used to make cane syrup.
On some plantations, they used these pots to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie “Mandingo.” CLICK HERE to see the clip.)
The Big House
This is the porch and perimeter of “The Big House.” We could tour everywhere except for this house. We were not allowed inside, and they did not give us a reason why.
It was overwhelming to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun, and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees lined the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.
I don’t know what a stranger’s room is (guest room?), but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. It looks like the original furniture is still preserved.
The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.
Square Corn Crib and Cistern
The Corn Crib was built around 1821 of hand-hewn cypress logs and was used to store grain for the plantation. Rainwater was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.
There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’ Hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”
Husband checking out the Chicken Coop.
Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.
What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually, I’d be going home to a hot shower, a full meal, and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What is it like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back-breaking work?
My revelations were not just in relation to dark history (I am aware black history is not just about slavery). As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on the property. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From shelters to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.
Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as naive as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the tangible things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me through the generations.
Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.
Today, she provides insight into the book, To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982.
A Long Preamble
The full title of To Shoot Hard Labour, which I was first introduced to as a secondary school student and have referenced in the years since, is To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982 (first printing 1986).
You may immediately pick up that the title structure is reminiscent of the true-to-life literary genre known as the slave narrative. Famous examples of which include Twelve Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana (published 1859). Additionally, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by himself (published 1845 by the anti-slavery office in Boston); and The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, related by Herself (published in England in 1831).
The subject and author of the last of these spent some of her time in enslavement in Antigua, where I live, the locale of the post-slavery narrative told by Samuel Smith to his grandchildren, co-authors Keithlyn and Fernando Smith.
The slave narrative emerged in the colonial era as a genre and a tool of the anti-slavery movement concerned with dismantling chattel slavery in the Americas – other references will say North America, but I am being very specific.
It shouldn’t need to be said in 2020 with all the material (e.g., slave narratives) at our disposal, but chattel slavery – the brutal multi-generational-generational-generational form of human trafficking and enslavement of Africans fed by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the need (read: greed) for labour for the mass production of sugar and cotton that built the European and North American (meaning the USA) economies – happened across the hemisphere known as the Americas. The Americas includes North and South America and the Caribbean. Historically, this is the so-called ‘New World’ over which European powers fought and which they colonized over hundreds of years – beginning with Columbus’ wrong turn at Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti (French), and the Dominican Republic (Spanish) in 1492.
The first enslaved Africans arrived in the New World in the 1500s. To Shoot Hard Labour, in its sweeping introduction, spoke of Las Casas, the Catholic priest known as the protector of the ‘Indians’, the Kalinago (called Caribs by the Europeans who in the history books I read as a child were described as ‘fierce’ and ‘warlike’) and other indigenous groups being exterminated for European profit, who proposed that the colonizers look instead to Africa for labour. In this introduction, it said the first enslaved Africans landed in the New (to the colonizers) World in 1502.
The Old World powers of England, Spain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands (Dutch) divvied up and dominated Africa (which they mined of her natural and human resources) and the colonies they claimed in the New World, often through violence. England emerged as a superpower – an empire upon which the sun never set, into the 20th century, until its former colony, America, which had greatly expanded its fortunes and influence since declaring its Independence in 1776, rose to take that spot. Forgive me for being hand wave-y on the details of globalization; I intend this as a discussion of the book To Shoot Hard Labour, not a New World history.
However, I am writing this in the summer of 2020, a summer in which the newly announced Vice Presidential hopeful on the US Democratic party ticket, Kamala Harris, is US (i.e., North American) born to a father from Jamaica and a mother from India. The fact that these are both former colonies of England and that Jamaica was, like the entire Caribbean, a chattel slavery colony is not the point, but it is not irrelevant. Harris’ Blackness, and her connection to the struggles of Black people who have fought their way from slavery to freedom and beyond, have been called in to question with sentiments like “She’s not Black. She’s Jamaican.”
If you know the New World history, you know that Blackness and Jamaica are not mutually exclusive. The English speaking Caribbean, including Jamaica, and other non-English speaking former colonies, are majority Black and have been for centuries at the forefront of anti-slavery, labour rights, and independence movements, and for decades at the forefront of the reparations movement specific to the injustices of chattel slavery.
It is a movement that has been centered in American discourse this election cycle – and we love to see it – because it’s all about reparative justice. This is something that should unite, not separate us. We are diasporically – through our ties to a common motherland, Africa, and the inheritance of a common brutal experience here in the New World – family. But here we are, and it needs to be said – some of the most brutal forms of chattel slavery existed in the Caribbean, and the post-slavery narrative To Shoot Hard Labour is one man’s testimony.
The genre known as the slavery narrative grew out of the lived experience of enslaved (and formerly enslaved) people, some 6000 of them across North America and the Caribbean through the 18th and 19th centuries. They were autobiographical and, given their use as an anti-abolitionist tool, emphasized the struggle, with religion and progress being recurring motifs. As with many slave narratives, To Shoot Hard Labour is an ‘as told to’ and Papa Sammy ends by telling his grandsons, “I hope that you will write down exactly what I am telling you. If you do, the people will see how far down in the mud arwe come from.” (p. 162)
To Shoot Hard Labour veers from your traditional slave narrative in that it begins in 1834 – the year slavery legally ended in the English speaking Caribbean, with the four year apprenticeship – Antigua, which opted for full emancipation in 1834, was an exception. I, therefore, describe it as a post-slavery narrative. Its central theme, beginning with Papa Sammy’s ancestor Rachael’s long walk across Antigua to re-connect with the daughter (Minty) sold off years before, is the quest for freedom, life, humanity in a world determined to keep Black people underfoot. “Only when they find Minty they really believe that slavery was all over for sure.” (p. 32) But not without scars, “Minty had a brand on she hand.” (p. 32)
The book is a stark reminder that the legal end of slavery did not mean its end in practice. In some ways, even in a country, politically independent since 1981, with Black leaders and a majority Black population, the struggle for true self-actualization continues. The ways in which the struggle continues and in which they have been brought in to sharp focus in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the globally resonant Black Lives Matter uprising sparked in North America/the US, and the economic and social quakes sparked by both, is more heavy lifting than this piece can do.
But let’s talk about this book though.
I covered a lot of ground in the 13th installment of my CREATIVE SPACE column of 2020 (SAY THEIR NAME: IN MEMORIAM) in which I wrote about To Shoot Hard Labour by telling the stories of some of the people beaten, raped, and killed, casualties of anti-Blackness post-slavery in Antigua, as well as some of the unsung freedom fighters (labour rights activists). There is likely to be some overlap, but I’ll try to tread ground not covered there, here. I urge you to read that article as a companion to this one.
As the nation was reminded during a month-long on-air book club discussion of it in which I participated, this book covers a lot in its 100 plus years, and even if you’ve read it before, you’re likely to learn something. And even if you’re not from Antigua, what you learn will be educational and impactful as you consider the arc of human history in general and Black people’s experiences in the New World specifically. The particularity of it makes it more potent, not less.
“Just a little away from the market on Church Street in an open space under a big mahogany tree was the old slave market where the bakkra use to sell our generations. That mahogany tree had hoods and spikes in it. After slavery end, Delos Martin, a Scotchman built a business place just west of it, and that would block the view of the courthouse at the corner of Scotch Row and Church Street…the little hill at the head of the city – the one in a straight line with High and St. Mary’s Streets – was called Gibbet’s Hill. It was the place where the open gallow was built – close to what is now called the Botanical Gardens – but the slaves use to call it Dribbet House.
The open gallows were like the frame of a house. Them gallows would have three or four planks overhead. The slaves used to be tied with rope at the neck or shoulders, around the waist, or any part of the body for that matter. They were then pulled up and tie to the overhead planks, and they would be left there to swing. A portion of food would be left in front of them, but that food was to let the slaves see it and not reach it. They were made to swing there till they dead. Nowadays, when you want to show how harsh you want to deal with somebody, you say ‘Me go kill you’. Back then we use to say ‘Me go gibbet you.’” (p. 95)
A long quote, yes, but hopefully you see what I mean, that you don’t have to know those places to see and hear, in Papa Sammy’s own voice, with the vivid descriptiveness of lived and/or handed down memory, the history being revealed.
For me, the reading comes with a sense of loss and reclaiming, as, though I grew up here and knew the named streets, these places, as described, weren’t known to me. There are stories of numerous places for us to re-discover–from the baobob (or as Papa Sammy called it bear bob) tree (the one on the Freemansville main road), which has the distinction of being near a former market where enslaved people were sold, Stony Hill Gully where enslaved people plotted freedom, in 1736 (enduring public torture and death as a consequence), to the lawlessness and licentiousness of bakkra spaces like Guiana Island and Willoughby Bay.
It’s worth noting that though the book, in the spirit of narratives, is autobiographic and, as a result, largely anecdotal, it is not so easily dismissed as a history. For one, it fills the gaps left by the original history of dates and more official sources, i.e., the colonizer’s perspective. For another, it makes a valiant effort to fact check itself.
When Papa Sammy gives 1904 as the year the Gunthropes sugar factory became operational, there’s a footnote that references “Sir Francis Watts, who played a leading role in the establishment of the first central sugar factory” (p. 115) as saying that it was planned in 1903 and reaped its first crop in 1905. The centralization of at least some part of the sugar production process, by the way, began opening up the world of people who had known only plantation life – a very narrow world indeed.
Sugar was king during much of slavery, plantation days, in the Caribbean, and this changed only ever so slowly post-slavery. Massa (also called bakkra – literally “back raw” according to one source* much like “cracker” a pejorative for white in the US* is, according to some sources I’ve seen, a reference to the sound of the whip hitting Black flesh) was still Lord, Master, and the magistrate. The formerly enslaved was still, for all intents and purposes, enslaved. As Papa Sammy said, “in those days, nega if them right, them still wrong” (p. 118)
While the story doesn’t scrimp on the sorrow, it doesn’t wallow in victimhood. It speaks concurrently of the rise of free villages like Freemansville, the harnessing of skills and resources (female-centered work in medicine – a fair amount of folk remedies included), the lingering effects of enslavement (children still carrying the so-called Massa’s name and harsh corporal punishment of children and adults continuing the pattern from the plantation), and the rise of the workers’ rights movements with sometimes fatal consequences (as during the 1918 ‘riots’).
Additionally, the governorship and business and ownership or lack thereof and the transformation of the country, the push for voting rights and ways the community worked together (“the swap, throwing the box and working the lift was the main things that prevent us from eating each other” – p. 116). And there was a beauty. I can verify that as Papa Sammy said, there is no better vantage point for sunset viewing than Clark’s Hill, which is a rising in the middle of the island.
Chattel slavery was not indentured servitude, no matter what some meme said, and the fact that we seem to be forgetting that makes books like To Shoot Hard Labour even more valuable. Consider that post-slavery movement was restricted – you couldn’t just switch employers, and you would be punished physically or locked up for not going to work. You still effectively lived in slave quarters (called the ‘nega-house’ where there was no privacy); you did not police yourself in any way – in fact, “whenever there was a fight or quarrel among nega-house people, it would be massa that would decide who was to get punish and how the punishment would be” (p.38) and who in fact still had and exercised the power of life and death with impunity over the people he once owned.
Consider that post-slavery, you did not own the land you worked nor what it produced unless bakkra said so, that prison labour (literally a jail cart which moved where the work was) was effectively another form of slave labour. Consider all this and more through the lens of current conversations re Blackness, reparations, etc. Consider all this and more, over the 100 years Papa Sammy lived, dying the year after Antigua arrived at political Independence.
Who else to tell this story even if in the telling he disrupts some established narratives–e.g., bringing nuance to the story of modern Antigua, dinging the mythology, speaking to the jealousies and infighting, and the missed opportunities and broken promises even with Black leadership?
You can hear the heartbreak in his words as he reflects on the mahogany tree that once marked the slave market in town. “It was our government and black people that pluck up that tree.” (p. 161). It is we, now in charge, he insists who have forgotten and that’s the heartbreak of this book, but that’s also the hope. These stories are hard to read but they need to be told because – there is much that was done that we can learn from, there is much that was done to us that we must never forget.
Why read this book, beyond it being riveting history? To quote Papa Sammy, “I want the young generations to remember” (p. 161), and this is important because, to quote him further, “I hope that the day will never come again when our people have to suffer indignity like my generation and others have to.” (p. 162) Indignity, when you read this book, and books like it, you will see that that’s putting it mildly.
RIP to the co-author of To Shoot Hard Labour, Antiguan and Barbudan historian, and trade unionist Sir Keithlyn Smith who died July 31st, 2020, and buried in an official funeral on September 15th, 2020.
*Cracker: “Cracker” was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia’s frontier regions. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker” since the manual labor they did involved driving livestock with a whip. Over time this came to include slave-drivers who used Blacks as livestock during chattel slavery, often literally “cracking the whip” to make them walk faster when human bodies replaced cattle or as a warning to enslaved people who were not “working” hard enough. ‘Ev’ry time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold. I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.’ – Bob Marley, Slave Driver, from Catch a Fire | Source: “Remembering the Crack of the Whip: African-Caribbean Artists in the UK Visualise Slavery.”
Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of two books of children’s fiction, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and With Grace, two books for the teen/young adult market The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth, and two adult contemporary books Oh Gad! and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Her writing has appeared in several international magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, including, respectively, Essence, The Columbia Review, and New Daughters of Africa.
The MacLeans have suffered being thrown off their land, emigrating to the New World, surviving in the forest wilderness, and losing their father Gillan in a bizarre murder. Now, ten years later, the two youngest emigrants will split the family across an ocean.
Sheena pursues a future back in Scotland with her husband Gordon Lamont. Alisdair dreams of university and a chance to reform the political system in the colony that denied him justice for his father’s death.
But the British Empire of the 1830s has yet more obstacles to throw in their path. When the only school in the province only accepts Anglican students, what will Alisdair do? When Sheena finds herself in a role of authority over families like her own, how will she cope with the isolation?
And when both their hopes of peace and stability are dealt a telling blow, how will they stay true to their fighting spirit?
STORM WRACK & SPINDRIFT is a dramatic story of family survival and personal struggle set against social upheaval. While voter enfranchisement was advancing in London, and slavery finally outlawed in the Empire, the tiny stage of rebellion in a backwoods colony farm could still have deep repercussions. Every life is precious, every decision important–which is why the early struggle for Responsible Government and other civil liberties continues to encourage us today.
I enjoyed reading about the MacLean family, especially since the author did such an excellent job transporting readers to the era of the 1830s. The descriptions and dialect are authentic, and any lover of historical fiction would enjoy the natural flow of reading. I enjoyed the back and forth between Sheena’s experiences in Scotland and Alisdair’s challenges with the family on the farm. I sympathized with his conflict with wanting to study law but not wanting to leave the family who needed his help. The characters are undoubtedly the stars of this book. I love children, so I am fond of Mairi and her bond with Grannie. They are so sweet together, and even though Neil (Mairi’s dad) is sad, the author did an excellent job portraying his misery. Speaking of grief, prepare yourself. This book has its moments.
Suppose a Historical Fiction novel is going to be set during a time when slavery was alive and well. In that case, the author will do well to mention it in some capacity to make the story even more authentic (because of slavery’s worldwide influence). Thus, I love the mentioning of the Slavery Abolition Act that “abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada. It received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect on August 1, 1834.” (Latasha Henry, Slavery Abolition Act, 2020) The government compensated slave owners for the value lost from freeing enslaved people and Sheena was not having it:
“And is there any proposed fund for the slaves, since by abolishing slavery, we admit we had no right to own other people in the first place?”
“No, of course not.”
I liked the detail about Rhoda, Sheena, and Gordan’s widowed housekeeper, taking part in abolitionist demonstrations and the mention of Wilberforce’s death. Passing in 1833, William Wilberforce was a “British politician, philanthropist, and leader of the movement to abolish slavery.” (Wikipedia) I liked how the author connected Wilberforce to the family on a personal level by adding the detail about Rhoda’s involvement with him and showing readers the impact his death had on her.
While I enjoyed this story, I do not think it can be read as a standalone novel as marketed. As the third book in the series, I felt a bit lost in the beginning because it felt like something was missing, i.e., everything leading up to the MacLean’s family’s life on the farm.
The epilogue is intriguing, and I wonder if the author would consider adding another book to the series, possibly centered on the experiences of Mairi.
Today’s Black History Fun Fact Friday is from Joseph Ward.
Ward has prepared for us the inspiring story of Madison Washington, a formerly enslaved man who had escaped successfully and fled to Canada. Washington returned to Virginia to free his wife but was recaptured and put on a slave ship in Richmond, Virginia. Guys, Washington is the real-life Django Unchained! Not only does he free his wife, but many others.
Madison Washington was a man born into slavery in Virginia who escaped but risked his freedom to help free his beloved Susan. Washington is described as having extraordinary African features, superb leadership qualities, and a fierce spirit. They considered him a fugitive for escaping slavery and heading north to Canada, eventually finding work with a farmer named Mr. Dickenson. Even as a small child Madison would rebel against the inhumane treatment of him his slave masters, but rebellion eventually earned Washington his place in history.
Around the age of twenty Washington would meet the love of his life, the beautiful Susan, who he would make his wife. He planned to escape from slavery to free himself and his wife, but his plans didn’t work out. To prevent himself from being sold away from his wife, Madison escaped from the farm and hid in the surrounding woods for months. While in hiding he could keep an eye on his wife, he also began planning to lead a rebellion. His plans once again failed, and he eventually traveled north to Canada to live in free lands.
While in Canada Washington’s plan was to get a job and save enough money to buy the freedom of his wife Susan. He was becoming discouraged in carrying out his plans because he realized it would take five years to raise the money needed to free his wife. Washington made his mind up that he would return into the grasp of slavery to free his Susan. Mr. Dickenson the farmer tried his best to persuade Washington to take another course of action. He eventually left Canada with his wages and his freedom papers, heading south to Virginia. He could reach an area close to the farm where his wife was held but had to conceal his identity to prevent him from being captured.
Washington was still considered a fugitive, and anyone who recognized him would have blown his cover. Being a man of tact and organization, Washington carried miniature files and saws within the lining of his coat; these would help him break out of any chains used to restrain him. “Liberty is worth nothing to me while my wife is a slave,” said Washington as he held conversations with fellow travelers who tried to convince him to abandon his plans.
As Washington traveled closer to the farm that held his wife, he was forced to travel at night for fear of being recognized by someone. He found temporary shelter in the woods near the farm and tried to get information about her but was unsuccessful. One night while in hiding, he heard singing off in the distant woods; the singing was coming closer and closer to where he was hiding. As he investigated the singing, he became a part of the singing, there he learned that he stumbled upon a “corn shucking.”
A “corn shucking” was a mass gathering of slaves who pealed loads of corn, and after pealing the corn they were able to have a huge dinner with whiskey and dancing, which was provided by the owner of the plantation where the corn shucking took place. Washington refused to eat the food for fear of being discovered. He also was very careful to ask only a few questions and remain in the shadows. At the corn shucking, he learned that his wife had not been sold and was still on the old farm.
Being too eager to see his wife, Washington entered the parameter of the farm but was spotted by an overseer. The overseer then alerted the other white overseers on the farm. The first three men to approach Washington was struck in the face and knocked to the ground unconscious. Eventually, Washington was subdued, shipped to Richmond, Virginia, and sold to the slave owners Johnson and Eperson. New Orleans was the destination for The Creole, a slave ship controlled by Captain Enson and owned by Johnson and Eperson.
Washington and one-hundred and forty-four other slaves were loaded upon The Creole along with other cargo the men were shipping to New Orleans. As they loaded the slaves upon The Creole, the men were placed in one cabin and the women were placed in another. For fear of rebellion, the men were heavily chained, and Washington particularly was chained to the floor of the cabin. The women were not chained and were able to roam their cabin freely.
As Washington lay chained to the floor, his attitude was rather jovial than the expected gloom the other slaves displayed. The overseers didn’t know that while Washington was displaying a docile and cooperative attitude; he was secretly picking the men he would use to overthrow The Creole. They also didn’t know that Washington still carried his mini saws and files within the lining of his coat to use when the time was right.
In 1841, on the ninth day of the voyage, The Creole encountered rough seas which made several slaves very sick. Because some slaves were sick, the overseers did not watch them properly, this created the perfect opportunity for Washington and his men to attack. Washington used his mini saw and file to free himself and at least eighteen other men. Once free, the slaves found weapons and made their way to the deck where the ship’s crew was stationed. When the slaves attacked the ship’s crew it was unexpected, and it startled the crew, the men barley moved to make them easy targets for the slaves.
Hewell, the Black slave driver, and others from the crew drew their guns and shot some slaves. Washington spotted Hewell shooting his gun, approached him from behind, and struck him in the head, wounding him severely. Washington led his men into battle with iconic flair, fueling his men to earn their victory; the slaves then dominated the crew and gained control of The Creole. Washington’s men wanted to kill the remaining crew members who were still alive, but Washington allowed no more killing. He was not interested in killing the men, only gaining the freedom of his people and his wife.
The next morning, Madison Washington was named “Captain Washington,” commander of The Creole, by his men. That same morning, Washington requested that the cook prepare a wonderful meal for the men and women who were once captives on the ship. This meal would be the first time the men and women would see each other. Little did Washington know his beautiful wife Susan was one of the women held in the cabin on The Creole. As they served the meal, enslaved men and women mingled for the first time as free human beings. Washington and Susan spotted each other and shared a passionate, tearful reunion. After years of being separated because of slavery, Madison and Susan Washington were once again husband and wife.
Madison Washington and his men defeated the crew of the Creole, and Washington ordered that the men not be killed and their wounds treated. Once the wounds of the white men healed they tried to regain control of the ship but were defeated once more. Because of the bravery and brilliance of Washington, one-hundred, and forty-four, people could gain their freedom upon The Creole. The Creole didn’t make it to New Orleans, instead, Washington and his men landed in Nassau, Bahamas because they learned it was a free island. Washington was determined to free his wife, and his determination and love for his wife led to him freeing others he did not know.
The Story of Madison Washington and The Creole is a story many of us have never heard before; a man of African lineage who embraced freedom could not only change history but change the lives of others. This story is important because it shows that once organized black people can gain their freedom. It also exemplifies the commitment of a black man to his black wife, which is counter to the normal narrative which usually degrades the black family. If we unite and trust each other we can make the impossible, possible.
Mr. Madison Washington, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Joseph A. Ward is a graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU) and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Ward is a graduate of the “New Hope Program” with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Leon County and has served as a co-facilitator of the program for over seven years, teaching life and professional skills to underprivileged persons. In addition to co-facilitating this program, he also helped establish the FAMU chapter of Men of Strength (MOST) and currently serves as its co-facilitator.
Over the past 14 years, Mr. Ward has dedicated himself to studying the history and the culture of the African diaspora. He is the founder of On the Shoulders of Giants, Inc., author of On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 1 North America, and On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 2 Central America. He is also the host of The Freedom Train Podcast Series and The Fix Sports Podcast.
Mr. Ward’s commitment to his community has proven him to be a reputable teacher, coach, trainer, and motivator. He is dedicated to uplifting and educating individuals around the world while helping to create mindsets and environments which foster greatness.
I am gearing up to release the last book in The Stella Trilogy, The Road to Freedom. After this book drops the series will be complete. Whoo hoo!
But what’s that saying? The real work begins after you release the book? Yea, that.
I don’t know who said it first, but there are no lies told here.
As book three is on its way out, I would like to draw more attention to books one and two by getting some book reviews in. As you guys know, these books were originally published in 2015-2016 but due to major editorial and formatting issues, I have had to take them down and relaunch them. One major risk of taking them down was losing the little reviews the books had. That was a risk I was willing to take if it meant a better reading experience. There are over three thousand followers of this blog. I am hoping I can get a few of you to help.
I just thought I’d ask. What’s that other saying? “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
If you have read any of these books, it would mean everything if you could review them on amazon. Review book one here. Review book two here.
If you have never read these books and would like to receive an ARC copy, it would delight me to send it to you.
Comment below, contact me through the contact form or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the meat of book one focuses on what life was like for a little girl, and then a young woman, growing up in slavery, the bulk of my research had to do with reading slave narratives and studying enslavement through the eyes of women and children.
Between Slavery and Freedom centers on Stella’s enslavement on The Saddler Plantation in Louisiana. As I introduce us to the first Stella, she is a six-year-old girl enslaved with her mother, Deborah. At this age, she is not aware that she is living property, which was typical for some enslaved children in their early years. She plays with the other children, including the slave owners’ daughter, but she does not yet understand the value of her flesh, that she could be bought, sold, traded, transferred, deeded, and gifted. Stella describes the plantation as a “big family.” She loves running through the dirt and the way it feels on her toes. She talks of childish things like eating sweet cakes, playing with Miss Carla, and trying to convince Mama, she touched the sun.
“One time, I made it where I touched the sun. It wasn’t even hot either. It didn’t feel like nothing but air. I told Mama the sun was tricking us.
“And how it do that?”
“Cause Mama. I touched it, and it ain’t burn my finger none. It feels hot, but it ain’t really.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
Historically, enslaved children who had a “childhood” in this way realized their status gradually. Their awakened consciousness may have been signified by seeing a family member sold for the first time or being sold themselves. The research points to ten as the age where the enslaved child knew and understood that he or she was property, except in the circumstances, as I have mentioned. As soon as they were old enough, the enslaved child’s life changed, and they realized that their lives as enslaved differed greatly from the lives of the white children they once played with as small children.
Slave-owners raised southern white youth as enslavers in training. Sometimes slave-owners gifted their children an enslaved person as a pet (sometimes it was the same child they played with). Literature also played a role in the training of southern youth to not only accept slavery as a regular part of society but to prepare them to own slaves of their own. Examples of such books is The Child’s Book on Slavery; or Slavery Made Plain. In a chapter called The Duty of Learning about Slavery, it states:
“if slavery is good, we ought to help it forward…”
In a chapter called Does Color Make Slavery, it states:
“Moses and all his people, I have said, were slaves in Egypt, but they were not colored people.”
This explanation was to try to explain to the children that slavery wasn’t based on skin color, and it is a lie. Egypt is in Africa. Moses and his people were “people of color.”
In a chapter called What is a Slave, the author compares the enslaved to a horse, saying:
“Perhaps your father has a horse. That is his property. He has a right to make the horse work, only he should treat him kindly and give him good food. If the horse is his, nobody has a right to tell him he must not use the horse so. And then, if he thinks it best, he has a right to sell the horse to somebody else. Nobody has a right to forbid him. He need not go and ask even the horse, if he may have him plow the garden, or draw the wagon, for the horse would not understand him, and could not speak to him, and will never grow so old or so wise, that he can understand our words, and talk himself.”
Speaking of literature, another part of writing book one was reading many slave narratives, including Frederick Douglass An American Slave, and Up from Slavery. Other books included When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
“Some people have to take the cotton and pick out the seeds, and others have to spin and weave. They don’t do nothing but spins and weaves. Some people even had to turn the weaves into threads.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
More profound than this is my visit to a former slave plantation at The Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
You might ask yourself why anyone would want to visit such a place. I was writing about people living on a slave plantation and what better way to get inside their heads than to visit one.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’ Homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton. The Prud’ Hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
“Down in the quarters, every family had a one- or two-room log cabin. Mostly one room though. We had mattresses filled with corn shucks. Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn’t know much about having anything, though. There were a lot of cabins for the slaves, but they weren’t fitting for nobody to live in. We just had to put up with them.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land until the 1970s, and slave quarters became homes to sharecroppers later. The people worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Seeing this with my own eyes put it into perspective how the south had reconstructed slavery by returning land to former slave owners and putting former slaves back into the fields under another name. Slave codes designed to control the enslaved became black codes intended to control freedmen, and cotton pickers became sharecroppers.
Finally, part of my preparation for book one also included where I was living at the time I started writing these books.
At the time I released the first book in this trilogy, my husband and I lived in an old house owned by our elderly cousin on 40-acres of land. Over the years, we planted a garden on the property, built a chicken coop and raised chickens, owned several dogs, goats, and even a horse. My grandmother-in-law also recounted stories of when she and some cousins picked cotton on this land.
The elderly cousin and her father built the house we rented many years ago. It was an old house and an old land. It was easy for my overactive imagination to envision what it would be like if we were not renting this house from our cousin; if we were not free to live life on our own terms; if this was not the 2000s, but the 1800s, and if we were not free but enslaved. I walked the property, breathed the air, and looked up at the trees. I had dreams of black people hanging from those trees and visions of people trying to escape.
We lived on that land for five years, eventually moving away in 2015, and I had a completed manuscript.